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Ron DeSantis Is Building a State Where Media Criticism of Him Is No Longer Allowed

A pair of bills in the Florida legislature make it easier to sue journalists and harder to get public records.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis smiles at a podium
Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis is building a near-bulletproof shield against criticism in the news. A pair of bills working their way through the Florida state legislature would make it easier to sue media outlets for defamation, and also shield records on how and where the Florida governor goes (including retroactively).

DeSantis has adopted a classic Republican talking point: casting the news media as an enemy. These two bills are just the latest efforts by his government to curb news in the state.

The first bill, passed by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee last week, would make it easier to sue journalists for defamation. The measure expands the definition of defamation but makes it harder to sue elected public officials. The bill also dictates that information from an anonymous source is “presumptively false,” with no exceptions for whistleblowers.

People accused of discriminating against someone’s sex, gender, sexual orientation, or race based on personal scientific or religious belief would be protected against defamation charges. Judges and juries would be allowed to “infer actual malice,” instead of the plaintiff needing to prove it. If the plaintiff wins, they could collect legal fees from the news organization they sued, instead of both parties paying their own costs.

People on both sides of the political spectrum have decried the measure, with Bobby Block, the executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, calling it a “death knell for American traditions of free speech.”

But he also warned that conservative outlets would be even more vulnerable to defamation lawsuits, because “much of conservative programming centers on commentary and opinion,” which is usually “purposefully provocative and colorful.”

James Schwartzel, the owner of a conservative talk-radio station, said the bill would mark “the death of conservative talk throughout the state of Florida.”

Separately, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would block reporters from accessing information about how and where DeSantis and other government officials travel. The bill, the first of its kind, would also work retroactively to prevent anyone from examining how officials have used state travel in the past.

DeSantis is currently on a press tour for his book, which many suspect is doubling as a warmup for his anticipated presidential campaign. Questions are rising about whether taxpayer funds have been used to pay for his travel—and soon, we may never know the answer.

Florida lawmakers are clamping down on journalism in the state in a way that smacks of authoritarianism. Earlier this month, a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill that would require paid bloggers who write about elected officials to first register with the state.

DeSantis himself has remained a constant in headlines as of late for cracking down on human rights in his state, particularly for people of color and women and gender minorities. The Republican, seen as a front-runner for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, has declared war on all things “woke” and is clearly making good on his promise.

Kyrsten Sinema Literally Gives Democrats the Middle Finger

A new report reveals what the Arizona senator really thinks about the Democratic Party.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema hugs an old white man in a suit (we can only see their back)
J. Scott Applewhite/Pool/Getty Images
Senator Kyrsten Sinema

Kyrsten Sinema is a Republican.

Once a Green Party member, Sinema subverted expectations enough by coming into herself as an extremely conservative Democrat. And since she turned the dial further by becoming an independent, the political media has inquired with great curiosity about Sinema’s political future and where she sees herself in the battleground of American politics.

But a new report from Politico has shed more light on what she really thinks about Democrats. The Arizona senator has reportedly gone on a national tour to schmooze with corporate lobbyists and donors, often of the Republican persuasion, criticizing Democrats and in one instance even flipping off a White House aide while talking about him.

“I’m not caucusing with the Democrats; I’m formally aligned with the Democrats for committee purposes,” Sinema said to a select group of Republican lobbyists at a Washington, D.C., reception. “But apart from that I am not a part of the caucus.”

At that same reception, Sinema bragged about her apparent role in getting a federal judge from Arizona confirmed in the divided Senate. She recounted a White House aide calling to enlist her help. Boasting of the judge’s successful confirmation, Sinema revealed the identity of the aide to her enraptured Republican lobbyist audience. “That was [Ron] Klain,” she noted, flashing her middle finger in the air about the former White House chief of staff.

She also dismissed Senate Democratic luncheons. “Old dudes are eating Jell-O, everyone is talking about how great they are,” she reportedly said. “I don’t really need to be there for that. That’s an hour and a half twice a week that I can get back.”

Beyond White House staff, Sinema has derided everyone from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to “honorary” leader and fellow moderate Joe Manchin.

At one point, a Republican donor told Sinema it was not Manchin but her who “carried the water for us in this last Congress.” She responded: “You’re hired.”

“Without you our taxes would’ve gone through the roof,” the donor glowed. “They would have,” Sinema agreed.

Sinema has reportedly complained about Manchin, saying that “people often assume that we’re the same person.” She then repeatedly noted to a corporate audience that she has “better tax policy ideas” than Manchin’s more traditional Democratic stance on taxing the wealthy.

The Arizona conservative also went to Georgia earlier this month to visit the American Enterprise Institute’s annual forum, where she sat alongside Republican Senator Susan Collins and spoke glowingly of her relationships with other Republicans. To other exclusive crowds, she has mocked House liberals as “crazy people” and her Democratic colleagues overall as being not “familiar” with tax policy. And just as Republican donors and lobbyists can’t get enough of her company, Republican elected officials themselves are laying out a red carpet for her.

Sinema’s work has paid off, with Senator Mitt Romney telling Politico he “could very easily endorse” her in 2024.

The Politico report is another reminder that the political press would do well to stop perpetuating the mystique surrounding Sinema. While some point to her generally Democratic voting record, that alone is not enough to see her as more friendly to the Democratic agenda than not (after all, recall her elemental role in watering down Biden’s infrastructure bill, for instance). And given the fact that the senator insists on spending her free time chumming it up with Republican lobbyists and corporate donors, she cannot be mistaken as a Democrat and certainly is not someone with an “independent ideology.”

Florida GOP’s New Anti-Trans Bill Is So Extreme It Could Ban Treatment for Breast Cancer

The bill is one of the cruelest in the country targeting transgender people.

Oli SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

A Florida House of Representatives committee on Wednesday advanced an anti-trans bill that is so broad and so extreme that it could also prevent people from getting treated for breast cancer.

The bill passed the Healthcare Regulation Committee by a vote of 12–5 and now heads to the House for a vote. The measure is one of the cruelest in the country to target transgender and LGBTQ rights and care. It bans gender-affirming care for minors and would force them to medically detransition, or stop receiving treatments such as hormone therapy. But the bill’s vague wording has larger repercussions as well.

The text defines gender clinical interventions as “procedures or therapies that alter internal or external physical traits,” including surgeries that change “primary or secondary sexual characteristics.” During the debate, Democratic Representative Christine Hunschofsky pointed out that this could prevent people from getting treatment for breast cancer, as the overly broad language could apply to mastectomies.

Bill sponsor Randy Fine—who prior to being a Republican representative was a gambling industry executive, not a doctor—was surprised to learn that young people can get breast cancer.

By the same definition, people who need prostatectomies to treat prostate cancer could also be denied treatment. The bill also bans hormone treatments, which could potentially affect care for menopause, stunted growth, and birth control.

Republicans across the country have introduced bills targeting gender-affirming care, insisting that by doing so, they are protecting children. But the Florida bill goes a step further and says the quiet part out loud: It targets care for trans adults too. The bill bans health insurance policies from covering gender-affirming care, which would prevent adults from accessing treatment. It also prohibits anyone from changing the gender on their birth certificate to reflect their identity.

As civil rights attorney Alejandra Caraballo pointed out, the measure could also dissuade medical providers from providing care to anyone because they could face felony charges and risk losing their license to practice. Anyone who gets a procedure that inadvertently alters a primary or secondary sexual characteristic can sue their care provider for malpractice for up to 30 years after.

Bills such as the latest Florida measure make it clear that Republicans don’t really want to protect children; they want to erase LGBTQ people from public life. Gender-affirming care decreases the amount of depression and anxiety that trans and nonbinary teenagers feel, and it makes them less likely to consider suicide. Instead, lawmakers are criminalizing LGBTQ people of all ages and putting them at risk of real harm.

Michigan GOP Compares Gun Regulation to the Holocaust

The official Michigan Republican Party seems to think gun reform is the same as a genocide.

Michigan state Capitol building
Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Michigan state Capitol building in Lansing

As people still reel from a mass shooting at Michigan State University that left three people dead and another five injured, Michigan Republicans are now comparing modest gun regulation to the Holocaust.

In a Twitter post Wednesday morning, the official Michigan GOP account posted a photo referencing the Nazis’ seizure of wedding rings from Jews they killed during the Holocaust, with the caption: “Before they collected all these wedding rings … they collected all the guns.”

The post comes as state Democrats are advancing a gun regulation package that includes basic reforms like implementing safe storage laws, requiring individuals to obtain a license in order to own a gun, and allowing a judge to temporarily restrict gun access for individuals who are at a higher risk of harming themselves or other people.

Michigan GOP Chairwoman Kristina Karamo later doubled down on the Twitter post. She compared the enslavement of Black people, genocide of Native Americans, internment of Japanese people, and forced sterilization of marginalized people as historical analogues to the push for gun regulation. (Beyond the wild comparison, some of Karamo’s own colleagues may shake their heads at such an invocation of critical race theory.)

And the Michigan GOP Party applauded Karamo for defending the “legitimate comparison” of Nazis exterminating Jews to lawmakers trying to make people’s lives safer after college kids were shot and killed.

Karamo (again, leader of the entire Michigan Republican Party) made national headlines last year for allegedly threatening to kill her now-ex-husband and their two daughters, after her husband asked for a divorce. Karamo allegedly attempted to grab the steering wheel while her husband was driving the family. “Fuck it, I’ll kill us all,” Karamo said. A 2020 election denier, Karamo has also called for the “citizenship arrest” of George Soros and has compared abortion to “child sacrifice.”

Florida “Don’t Say Gay” Lawmaker Pleads Guilty in Covid Fraud Case

Former state Representative Joseph Harding now faces up to 35 years in prison.

Someone waves a Pride flag

Joseph Harding, a leading Republican co-sponsor for Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements—and faces up to 35 years in prison.

The former Florida state representative resigned in December, after being indicted by a federal grand jury for using inactive businesses to apply for emergency loans doled out to small businesses during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Harding stole some $150,000 from the Small Business Administration program meant to help struggling businesses serve their customers and pay their workers during the pandemic, according to a news release from the Justice Department.

Harding became a prominent voice among Florida Republicans after introducing and helping lead the passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, one of many authoritarian legislative planks pursued under Ron DeSantis’s reign. The bill bans classroom instruction and discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity for students up to the third grade. Beyond the third grade, such instruction is only to be allowed so long as it is “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” in “accordance with state standards,” vague guidelines that have led instructors and students alike to worry how the government will over-enforce an already repressive law.

Harding has entered a plea deal on one count of each of the charges, allowing the other counts against him to be dropped. Still, he faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud charge, a maximum of 10 for money laundering, and a maximum of five for false statements. The actual sentence to Harding will be doled out in July.

Beyond being one of the leading co-sponsors for the repressive and DeSantis-blessed “Don’t Say Gay” Florida law, Harding was also named vice chair of the state House Health and Human Services Committee and of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee before he resigned in December.

Since 2021, lawmakers in at least 22 states have introduced at least 42 bills that restrict education or discussion about gender and sexual orientation. While Florida’s is the only one to become law so far, at least 30 other bills are currently progressing through state legislatures.

Starbucks Workers Are on a Nationwide Strike to Protest Union-Busting

Workers are greeting the company’s new CEO with a demand for a “real seat at the table.”

Starbucks workers protest with signs that read "Baristas over billionaires," "Honk for Unions," and "Starbucks Workers on ULP Strike."
Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram/Getty Images
(From left) Kit Kittleson, Josie Serrano, and Misha Spencer hold picket signs as they strike in front of a Starbucks in Long Beach, California, on December 16.

Workers at more than 100 Starbucks locations across the country went on strike Wednesday to protest the company’s alleged union-busting tactics and demand a contract negotiation.

The strike was timed to fall on “Founder’s Day,” a holiday the coffee chain invented to honor three-time CEO Howard Schultz. Schultz announced Monday that he was stepping down from his post two weeks early. He has been replaced by Laxman Narasimhan.

“We are on strike today … to show Starbucks that we will no longer take the hour cuts, the lack of guaranteed hours. We will no longer settle for anything less than a real seat at the table, and also to show them that we have the power,” a woman named Lola, who works at a Starbucks store in St. Paul, Minnesota, told More Perfect Union.

Starbucks employees took to the streets in more than 40 cities. The first coffee store unionized in Buffalo, New York, almost a year and a half ago, and union efforts have prevailed at hundreds of other locations. At least 421 Starbucks locations nationwide have launched unionization efforts, 287 of which have been successful. Another 39 are currently ongoing.

But over the past year, Starbucks has shuttered multiple locations, some of which were either unionized or reportedly forming a union. The company fired more than 100 union leaders, some of whom were reinstated only after a federal judge ordered Starbucks to do so. And when Starbucks representatives finally met with union members in October, after months of delays, they walked out after just a few minutes because they disliked that some union members had called in over Zoom.

Schultz came under particular fire during his third tenure as Starbucks CEO for alleged union-busting tactics. His retirement announcement came a little more than a week before he was due to appear in front of a key Senate labor committee.

He had agreed to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, just before the committee voted to subpoena him over the union-busting allegations. Schultz will still have to appear in front of the committee, even though he is no longer Starbucks’s CEO.

Trump’s Own Lawyers Could Be Forced to Testify Against Him in Special Counsel Case

The president’s legal issues seem to be growing day by day.

Donald Trump
Alex Wong/Getty Images

A top federal judge ruled that some of Donald Trump’s attorney-client privileges could be “pierced” after prosecutors for the special counsel investigating the former president found he intentionally misled his own attorneys about keeping classified materials when he left office. As a result, two of Trump’s lawyers could now be forced to testify against him.

Jack Smith was appointed in November as the special counsel to investigate Trump’s role in the January 6 attack and his keeping hundreds of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

U.S. Judge Beryl Howell wrote in a sealed court filing Friday that Smith’s team had found preliminary evidence that showed “the former president had committed criminal violations,” ABC News reported. Howell, who stepped down Friday as the chief judge for the D.C. district court, found prosecutors had “sufficient” evidence that Trump “intentionally concealed” many of the classified documents from his own legal team.

For now, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily stayed Howell’s order, but a final ruling could come at any moment.

Howell ordered Trump attorney Evan Corcoran to comply with a grand jury subpoena for testimony on six different lines of inquiry. She also ordered him to hand over records of Trump’s alleged “criminal scheme,” including handwritten notes, invoices, and transcriptions of personal audio recordings.

The judge also ordered Trump lawyer Jennifer Little to testify for unspecified reasons. Little is representing the former president in the Georgia investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.

Prosecutors will need to reach a much higher standard of evidence to seek charges against Trump and prove him guilty, Howell said. But her decision is “an indication that the government had presented some evidence and allegation that they had evidence that met the elements of a crime,” former national security official Brandon Van Grack told ABC.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who led the successful prosecution of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, said Howell’s order could be a “gold mine” for proving wrongdoing by Trump. Howell also presided over Manafort’s obstruction charges.

A Trump campaign spokesman, who sounded a lot like Trump publicist John Miller, hit back at Howell’s order. “Shame on Fake News ABC for broadcasting ILLEGALLY LEAKED false allegations from a Never Trump, now former chief judge, against the Trump legal team,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The real story here, that Fake News ABC SHOULD be reporting on, is that prosecutors only attack lawyers when they have no case whatsoever.”

Trump and his supporters have repeatedly accused prosecutors of weaponizing their offices to attack the former president. The latest target is Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is expected to indict Trump this week for his alleged role in hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Trump Wants to Be Handcuffed for the Stormy Daniels Hush Money

Ahead of a potential criminal indictment, the former president is planning out the spectacle of his arrest.

Donald Trump exits a car as someone opens a door for him.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Donald Trump wants to be put in handcuffs.

The twice-impeached former president currently facing four criminal investigations told his advisers that, if he is indicted by the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into his role for paying hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels, he wants to turn it all into a show.

As The Guardian reports, Trump seems more concerned with how to display strength and defiance amid the potential criminal charges than he is with the charges themselves. He has essentially told advisers that if he is going to be forced to surrender to authorities and have fingerprinting and a mug shot done at the courthouse, he may as well turn the whole process into a “spectacle.”

A perp walk of a visually unphased Trump, handcuffed and flanked by the police, all in front of flashing cameras and ardent protesters, is apparently Trump’s fantasy. Unfortunately for the daydreamer, reports indicate that authorities will likely work in tandem with the Secret Service to avoid such pandemonium.

Trump’s reinvigorated thirst for being the main character seems to be a bounce back from when he was on the way out of the White House. Per The New York Times, Trump was deep in the doldrums upon being impeached for the second time, after his supporters attacked the Capitol in a failed attempt to keep him in power. Trump reportedly had a “startling melancholy in his tone and hints of self-reflection as he sighed about his advanced age and expanding waistband,” reported the Times.

But since then, presumably buttressed by his formal entrance back into politics as the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, Trump seems to be more and more back in his brash, delinquent groove. His eagerness to turn his potentially unprecedented arrest—which would make him the first former president to be criminally indicted—into a spectacle mirrors an augmented egomania displayed in, for example, his insistence that the Secret Service drive him around in a limo after he tested positive for Covid-19 so he could project strength to his supporters.

The spectacle didn’t work then (he lost the election weeks after that, and he and Melania’s cases were a few of many in the White House Covid outbreak), and it likely won’t work now. Because while Trump revels in the showbiz aspect of being criminally charged—and while this could solidify him as a martyr for at least enough primary voters to crowd out any other challenger—he is still mired in three other criminal investigations.

And one indictment alone would be enough to turn off more voters than the ones who chose not to vote for him in 2020.

North Dakota Republican Compares Letting Students Use Their Preferred Pronouns to Murder

More than a bit of hyperbole from state Representative Lori VanWinkle

Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Lori VanWinkle seems to believe respecting students’ preferred pronouns is the same as committing murder.

The Republican representative in North Dakota made the claim during a state House judiciary meeting Monday on a Senate bill that would ban schools from adopting any policies or curriculum related to “expressed gender” and allow teachers to misgender students without facing penalty. VanWinkle supported the bill and seemed to argue that respecting someone’s preferred pronouns was tantamount to accepting murder.

“I mean this seems to be like we’re promoting them to make things up that aren’t true and then endorse that,” she said, suggesting that simply allowing students to use their preferred pronouns is instead encouraging them to lie about their gender. “I just don’t understand why we’re calling ‘lying’ protecting something, when we wouldn’t do it if [students] came to school and felt like they had the right to murder people,” she added.

The bill, which also bans schools from requiring staff training on gender, passed the Senate last month. Both chambers of the North Dakota legislature are controlled by the Republican Party, as is the governor’s office.

“Senate Bill 2231 only has one outcome for North Dakota,” North Dakota Student Association spokesperson Celeste McCash told local outlet KX News. “Economic losses. Individuals who are part of the LGBTQUIA+ community and their families will not consider moving to or continuing to live in our state.”

None of that is a problem for VanWinkle. “How does this even remotely fit into our constitutional obligation to promote a high degree of intelligence, patriotism, morality, and integrity for our students in the education system?” she asked earlier in the meeting.

Since entering office last year, VanWinkle has made a habit of reading Bible verses on the House floor and focusing on bills banning gender-affirming care and mask mandates. Last month, she cited a Covid-19 conspiracy theory while debating a bill on expanded workers’ compensation for firefighters and police officers, eliciting at least one audible groan from a fellow lawmaker.

Recently, VanWinkle joined Representative Brandon Prichard—known by local outlets as the “George Santos of North Dakota,” for reportedly lying about his education and even where he lives—to push a bill that would ban drag performances in the presence of minors or on public property. That bill, H.B. 1333, is also up for consideration.

John Cornyn Calls GOP Effort to Slander Trump Investigators Waste of Time

The Republican senator had some words for the rest of his party.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Congressional Republicans and right-wing media figures are working to discredit the Manhattan district attorney in the lead-up to a potential indictment of Donald Trump. Republican Senator John Cornyn, a two-decade member of Congress and prominent party figure, finds the effort to be a distraction.

“There’s more than enough to do,” Cornyn told Punchbowl News. “I would hope they would stick to the agenda they ran on when they got elected to the majority.”

The pronouncement by Cornyn may seem tame, but it is still significant given how much stock Trump puts into seeing who sticks out for him, and who does not.

Other Republicans have thus far mostly criticized the investigation into Trump’s alleged hush-money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels, rather than the former president himself. Senator J.D. Vance lambasted the ongoing investigation as a baseless inquiry funded by George Soros.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik have also perpetuated the conspiracy about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg serving at the behest of Soros. Stefanik went even further, saying that while Manhattan allows such a supposedly baseless investigation, Bragg has brought “skyrocketing crime” to the city. The latter claim is demonstrably false (violent crime has decreased since Bragg’s election).

The claim about Soros is rooted in a right-wing antisemitic scare campaign about wealthy Jewish people nefariously influencing society. This organized campaign straight from the top of Republican leadership comes from the same people who shamelessly booted Representative Ilhan Omar off a House committee for a comment she said was not meant to be taken as antisemitic but apologized for nonetheless. Republicans have never apologized for their continual invocation of the Soros conspiracy theory.

Cornyn may complain of the behavior of Republicans like McCarthy and Stefanik (not the hypocrisy about antisemitism), but he is mistaken if he thinks this was not exactly the agenda radical House Republicans “ran on when they got elected to the majority.” This kind of time-wasting, hypocritical, obstructive rhetoric was always on the front burner for Republicans—and is one reason why their “majority” is barely one at all anyhow.